Australia captain Ed Jenkins looks ahead to next month’s Olympic qualifier with RW’s Alan Dymock
YOU CAN’T stop the party, guys. It’s a little late for that. Rugby sevens is now that constant attraction, that global celebration that hops from famous city to famous city, rocking and juking and cheering all the way. And the international game is back after the briefest hiatus in this most important of years, as sevens heads for the bright lights of Rio and the Olympics next summer.
Okay, so we don’t know who all of the teams are for the Olympic Games yet. After last season’s HSBC Sevens World Series, the top four of Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand and England (representing the UK) nailed down their places, whilst Brazil, as hosts, were always assured. France, USA and Argentina also won smaller qualifying tournaments to get there.
But there are a few other spots up for grabs next month, as final qualifiers take place in Hong Kong, Auckland and Johannesburg, with one final repêchage qualifier in June.
Keeping up? Well, one team that has to is Australia, who must go through these channels to realise their dreams and make it to Rio in August.
“There’s another opportunity to make it next year, but we want to get the job done in November,” insists Australia captain Ed Jenkins. “The series kicks off in December in Dubai, and we don’t want Olympic qualification hanging over our heads before the repêchage next year.”
It’s a big ask but one Jenkins is ready for having had his longest-ever off-season, spending eight weeks tromping round Europe (his brother got married in Venice) and the US. Which helps as this season will be tough, with five new destinations and the Rio Games to follow – ten or so weeks after the series ends in London.
“It’s a completely different set-up this season,” Jenkins says. “The (2014) Commonwealth Games prep was short. We’d been together for a long period when we rolled out of the series straight into those Games.”
Will qualification be harder for the Aussies now that coach Geraint John has returned to Wales for a WRU job?
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“His leaving was a shock. He’d gotten really involved in pre-season. He had a huge influence and is a great coach. But there’s no time to sit back and complain! We’re straight into events in Dubai and South Africa in December. Thankfully we’ve got young guys to share the load with, in terms of responsibility. That helps – this season will be so tight.”
Australia’s Rio showdown with Samoa in November should thrill and, as you can see to the right, fans are sure to get into the sevens spirit…